Parliamentary Sketch : A trip to nowhere

There’s been a lot of head scratching and elaborate denials amongst my Health Select Committee colleagues this week. Our latest report – which roundly castigates the Government for recklessly attempting to make the biggest saving at the same time as subjecting the NHS to the greatest upheaval in its 62 year history – was leaked to a national newspaper two days before its planned release.

One of my colleagues may not be telling the truth (“An MP telling the truth!?! Surely not!!” I can hear you all cry). Whoever it was, it must be difficult for them to swallow with all of that butter not melting in their mouths! But back to the NHS and the Government’s plans…

With the Royal College of Nursing and the Royal College of Midwives now urging the Health Secretary to scrap the Bill – and following my recent challenge to the PM – it now seems that more Royal Colleges will join the call to stop and rethink.

It was rumoured that whilst the Government’s policy appeared to flounder a Health Minister had tripped and fallen into one of the few remaining lifeboats, but denied they were trying to escape before the whole policy capsized and sank.

Like the tragically ill-fated Costa Concordia, it seems that the Captain of the Government’s Health Bill is describing its problems as “just a minor technical failure”. We’ll see…

Meanwhile, we’ve been looking closely at food policy this week. It is my privilege to chair the National Grocery Market Action Group (with members drawn from the National Farmers Union, British Brands Group, Friends of the Earth, Action Aid, Traidcraft, the British Independent Fruit Growers Association and others). We’ve been pressing successive governments to introduce a Supermarket Watchdog to stop the large supermarkets from using bully-boy tactics on their smaller farmer and grower suppliers.

After all, it’s telling that when retail food price inflation is rampant and farmers go out of business in their droves most of the larger supermarkets make record profits. They seem to be immune from recession and the vagaries of economic woe which affect their suppliers.

Needless to say, the big retailers say there’s no problem and no need to have a Watchdog to make sure they don’t abuse their power to dictate market conditions (and the terms and conditions of their contracts). But I say, if they have nothing to hide, they have nothing to fear.

The question is, when will the Government bring in their Watchdog. All Parties agree, but every day that they fail to set it up more farmers and growers go to the wall.

24th January 2012

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